1. GoodTweetyBird
    Offline

    GoodTweetyBird Member

    Joined:
    Jul 30, 2013
    Messages:
    41
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    Virginia

    Too close to the truth - OR- Life is stranger than fiction.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by GoodTweetyBird, Jul 31, 2013.

    I hesitated to start this post after I saw the recent post about "Writing and the Law" and please warn me off if I am impertinent. But what I want to do is weave in some threads from my own life's experience and others I have witnessed near and far. This is not a biography at all but a novel. So how much must one change dates, names, physical attributes, locations, etc and the general theme to not be liable. My thinking goes back to a discussion about inventiveness, about how all new ideas are built upon older ones.

    Can one really write a novel and not have his own life influence it? There are a lot of experiences from 20 -30 years ago that I could take bits and pieces of (excuse the grammar). Maybe there is something that comes into play when an individual recognizes himself in a story to some extent and then realizes he knows the author.

    I see disclaimers quite often in books stating that words to the effect that similarities are no more than that because if you have enough writers and readers surely someone someday will think a piece is a bout them.

    Thanks for reading my ramblings. I hope you will respond if you have insight in this area.

    jh
     
  2. Orihalcon
    Offline

    Orihalcon Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2013
    Messages:
    212
    Likes Received:
    48
    Things like dates and names are usually not important. For example of you want to write about something based on an event involving you and Martin on July 14th 1999, if this date is arbitrary and there's nothing particular about that day that connects to your story other than that, then no meaning is lost if you write that it happens to the MC and Donald on June 2nd 1998. Physical attributes, to some extent, aren't that important either, unless you make them so. The locations need not be exact, either, as long as your fictional location conveys the same mood and similar images to the reader. I may be wrong though, and I'm sure there are other aspects I haven't considered, but I feel that especially when writing contemporary fiction, it's easier to make the story believable if you can use parts of your life to breathe life into it.
     
  3. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,683
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    One of the drawbacks of posing legal questions in a forum like this is that you have no way of knowing (unless someone actually says so) whether any of the respondents knows what (s)he is talking about. People often post well-meaning responses that are flat out wrong.

    To answer the OP, yes, it is definitely possible to write a novel and not have the writer's own life influence it, but it is probably rare. The history of literature is rife with examples of events and people drawn from the author's life experiences. The character of Dill in To Kill A Mockingbird is widely believed to be based on Truman Capote, with whom Harper Lee had a childhood friendship. The difficulty, as I understand it (and I am not an attorney, let alone a literary attorney, only a writer-wannabe who has on occasion drawn from life experiences), only arises if the people and events presented are recognizable as being that of a real person, and tend to defame that person. And that is only an issue if you write something that is of publishable quality, at which time you may want to consult a literary attorney.

    My own advice is that if you have yet to complete that first novel, don't worry about it. The chances of publishing that first novel are very slim, and you are best off regarding it as a learning experience. If you actually get to the point of publishing it, that will be time enough to consult with the attorneys.

    Best of luck.
     
  4. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,784
    Likes Received:
    7,299
    Location:
    Scotland
    You might want to check out this article, which covers the subject very comprehensively, from an American perspective. Obviously libel laws will vary, depending upon where you live.

    http://www.copylaw.org/p/libel-in-fiction.html

    In general, if you issue a disclaimer at the start that yours is a work of fiction, blah de blah ...then disguise any 'real' characters to the extent that nobody will recognise them - especially if you plan to paint them in an unfavourable light or reveal details of their personal lives which might also be recognised - you will probably be okay. However, I would suggest you read this article, which might answer your question more completely.
     
  5. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    sorry, but that's not necessarily true... 'probably' has too many holes in it to hold water... and can lead someone into thinking they're ok when they're not, so it's never helpful to give this kind of advice...

    that disclaimer does not provide protection from being hauled into court and only a literary attorney who's read the material can tell if you're at risk of being sued, or not... and if you are, even if you win, it will cost you a bundle in legal fees up front...

    read what ed had to say, jh... that's good advice!
     
  6. GoodTweetyBird
    Offline

    GoodTweetyBird Member

    Joined:
    Jul 30, 2013
    Messages:
    41
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    Virginia
    Thanks Ed,

    Pardon my ignorance but I am not familiar with the phrase "To answer the OP?". The Open Postulation?

    May never get published but I am enjoying it. I am 59 and have a big bag of anecdotes to dig from. A college lit prof read the first 40,000 words and said I should definitely finish it. So hope remains alive, but I am an engineer so there is also a good dose of pragmatic doubt to go with it.

    I had hoped my closing words "if you have insight in this area" would have dissuaded the good-natured, well-wishers.

    Your response was clear, knowledgeable (said what you know and don't know), and on target.

    Thank you sir.

    jh
     
  7. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,683
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    OP is "Original Post". Also sometimes "original poster".

    Glad to help.

    (BTW, I just turned 60)
     
  8. GoodTweetyBird
    Offline

    GoodTweetyBird Member

    Joined:
    Jul 30, 2013
    Messages:
    41
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    Virginia
    Will do so now.

    Thanks.
     
  9. GoodTweetyBird
    Offline

    GoodTweetyBird Member

    Joined:
    Jul 30, 2013
    Messages:
    41
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    Virginia
    Original post - duh on me. Well it happens to the best of us and some of us bad ones make it that far too.

    Sixty, eh. I'll try to remember to type slowly for ya, that is if I remember. What's the 2nd thing that goes? Can't remember that either
     
  10. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,683
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    Vision
     
  11. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,784
    Likes Received:
    7,299
    Location:
    Scotland
    I'm sorry if I gave the impression that issuing that disclaimer makes you safe from being sued. On it's own, it certainly won't. As I also said in my post, you also have to disguise your characters so that no one is likely to recognise them, AND make sure you're not defaming them or revealing details about their personal lives as well. And even that isn't always enough. Do read the article. It covers all the bases maybe better than I did.
     
  12. GoodTweetyBird
    Offline

    GoodTweetyBird Member

    Joined:
    Jul 30, 2013
    Messages:
    41
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    Virginia
    Read it. Good stuff. Thank you.
     
  13. Norm
    Offline

    Norm Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2010
    Messages:
    226
    Likes Received:
    9
    Location:
    Michigan
    I always use the people and places I know as inspiration for my setting and characters... as long as you don't rip off your influence detail by detail and avoid writing about these things that have happened in real life, you should be fine. Obviously don't use the names of real people or things if you plan on painting them in a negative light. For example, it's fine to have your character go to Walmart. It is not fine to base your story on the Walmart manager named <insert name of Walmart employee that you know> and his drug trafficking in the grocery store.
     

Share This Page